Catalyst Community: The Power of the Pod

The word “community” is defined as a group of people living in the same place or having a particular interest in common. Catalyst Midland has launched a series titled “Catalyst Community” focusing on different communities — sometimes geographic, sometimes a common interest. In this week’s Catalyst, a business owner and community leader shares her thoughts on how women in our community support one another as they strive to succeed in their leadership roles in different businesses and organizations in Midland.

Lee Ann Keller is the owner and chief executive officer of Omni Tech International, Ltd. in Midland. Omni Tech provides technical and business consulting services. They work with both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.  Some of their work includes biobased product development, strategic planning, fund development, and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) training. Keller has employees and contractors who live and work in locations around the world.  
Keller’s also very active in the community. She’s served on a number of boards including the Midland Business Alliance, Senior Services, the Midland Center for the Arts and Habitat for Humanity.

Keller is a graduate of Marquette High School and Michigan Tech, where she earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. 

The Power of the Pod
Lee Ann Keller, President and CEO, Omni Tech International

Lee Ann Keller is the owner and CEO of Omni Tech International, Ltd.What one thing has helped you in your career or your business the most? That is the one question that is repeatedly asked of all leaders and business owners. Most of us respond with the same glib (but truthful) answers – you need a good accountant (check), lawyer (check), banker (check), support from your family (check), an amazing team of coworkers (check), a great business plan (check), etc. and the list goes on. But I am always thrilled and proud to say that the single most powerful tool that has helped me along my journey is my pod

What exactly is a pod, you might ask? My pod started organically over 20 years ago. At first, it was an invitation for lunch from a fellow businesswoman whom I deeply admired. I remember her giving me a few nuggets of information that helped me through a tricky spot at work. To this day, we still share a nugget with each other every time we talk. Those lunches and a common desire to be around other like-minded women would eventually lead to a gathering of about eight of us meeting every month for lunch. We have a lot in common but we are also very diverse. Years ago, there was a rumor that a “pod” of women were meeting secretly to plot covert events in the community. We all laughed and jokingly referred to ourselves as the “pod.” The reality is we were forming a mega-network before networking was even cool. 

Over the years, our pod has seen each other through incredibly difficult personal and business challenges. We have both mourned and celebrated all of the critical events in our lives including births, deaths, illnesses, accolades and awards, divorces, marriages, graduations, business challenges, floods, and many successes and proud moments. We challenge each other, we debate, we lift each other up, we give advice, we listen, but more than anything, we all know that we are just there for each other – it is truly a 360 model. As one fellow member comments, “We don’t always agree, but we respect and listen.”  

"The single most powerful tool that has helped me along my journey is my pod."I can honestly say that there is not a single time that I don’t take away something from my time with them, individually or together. I was once very stressed with a work challenge and was essentially told to “put my big girl panties on and fix it.” May not have been what I wanted to hear but was certainly what I needed to hear.  There is always an email, a call, or a handwritten note to celebrate or show concern. As one Pod member commented, “the friendship and networking you all provided made my entry in Michigan and Midland an incredible experience.  You all helped me navigate the political barriers and gave me amazing advice. Couldn’t have been happier with the relationships."

Networking is certainly a buzzword right now. But as one of my pod sisters commented, “the value is in finding the right network of professional colleagues that can be nurtured over time into trusted allies and friends...I didn’t realize how powerful this journey would be for me 17 years ago when I first joined the group.  At the time, I just knew that I respected each of them professionally and was willing to see if I liked them personally.  They are all so amazing. I think of them all as mentors, friends and sisters and I know how incredibly fortunate I am to have the strength of them around me”. 

So how do you form your own pod? Contact the Midland Business Alliance for opportunities to join round tables or search online for information on forming a network. But one of the best ways to do it is organically – call someone and ask them for coffee or lunch or a “walk and talk.” Slowly grow the relationships and size. Set a few ground rules around confidentiality.  Be generous to share nuggets of information and keep an open ear. Before you know it, you will experience the power of the pod too.
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